Dec. 15, 2020
By SIDNEY MARGLES
As CJAD Radio in Montreal marks 75 years in operation, I’ve had the opportunity to look back some 60-plus years to when I broke into the broadcasting scene.
I began on a part-time basis while at university in 1957 and never looked back. I became a newswriter, and was promoted to the first fulltime on-the-scene reporter, with a radio-equipped car I used to cover any and all events, from fires to floods to disasters and politicians.
I was not the first Jew to sign on with CJAD. In fact, Lee Fortune from Ottawa had been a mid-afternoon fixture before leaving for the CBC, but he was not as identifiable as I, for I did not change my name as many broadcasters, even Gentiles, did in those days.
But did being Jewish carry any advantage or disadvantage?
Truthfully, I never did notice if ethnicity or religion was a disadvantage, but it did prove beneficial in dealing with leaders of the Jewish community, who sometimes saw me as someone with an entrée to government.
And while, over more than 25 years, I did interview two Israeli prime ministers – Golda Meir and Menachem Begin – as well as Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, among hundreds of leading personalities, I think what stood out the most was my ability to bring together Montreal’s Jewish leadership and Montreal’s civic leaders for an important community undertaking. And it gave me great satisfaction.
It dates back to the 1960’s, when there was a pressing need for seniors’ housing in the Jewish community. One day, I received a telephone call from Gordon Brown, who asked me to a meeting with other ranking officers of Allied Jewish Community Services, the predecessor to Federation CJA.
There was a piece of land owned by the community in the Cote-des-Neiges/Snowdon area which was suitable for the project, but the civil servants did not like the project. It would be to the rear of housing along Cote Ste. Catherine Road, and the proposed height adjacent to those two-storey homes was an obstacle.
So I spoke to the then Chairman of the Montreal Executive Committee, Lucien Saulnier, and arranged for him to receive Brown to discuss the issue. The meeting was obviously fruitful. Today, the two Bronfman buildings for seniors north of Cote Ste. Catherine Road between Westbury and Lemieux are visible testimonials to that effort, not as high as originally proposed, but still most satisfactory at the time to meet community needs.
By the mid-1960s, my workload had evolved. As a reporter with a regular weekly program featuring Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau and Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa, I added a supervisory position in news. So, CJAD management agreed to hire, first Rick Leckner, and later, Peter Shurman, also as reporters. We became known as the J.M.S., or Jewish Mobile Squad.
I can safely say that the CJAD reputation for news coverage was second to none in Montreal in those years due to the three of us, and especially during difficult times, culminating in the October Crisis in 1970.
I eventually moved to Ottawa for 10 years, heading our news network, building a new radio station, and coming back to Montreal to be President of Standard Sound Systems; Leckner took over CJAD helicopter traffic duties; while Shurman moved into management, ending up for a time as head of the radio division for the parent company, Standard Broadcasting in Toronto.
I was considered a pioneer, and as a result, was named to the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
Other Jewish voices have come and gone over the years at CJAD, but we had laid the foundation
Sidney Margles is a retired award-winning broadcaster whose career dates back to the 1950s. He was based primarily in Montreal but spent 10 years in Ottawa and could be heard over the years on many Canadian radio stations through Standard Broadcast News, a service that no longer exists. He has written the history of Canadian news broadcasting between 1960 and 2000 for the Canadian Communications Foundation and is a member of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame.